THERE are times in the history of music when one event charts the course for the future. If there was one defining moment which changed the course of jazz for the next 50 years it was Miles Davis’ album ‘Bitches Brew’. Miles Davis in this double album electrified (in its real sense) jazz, paving the way for this genre to become the dominant force.
What Miles did was sacrilege for the purists. But what’s less debatable is how it smashed musical barriers, opening up new avenues for generations of bands and musicians of all stripes to explore.” But undoubtedly his fusing jazz with rock created a template for future jazz musicians.
Miles knew with ‘Bitches Brew’ he was creating history and with its eclecticism he was charting a new course for jazz. In ‘Bitches Brew’ Miles brought in the most formidable lineup of young jazz musicians using electric instruments. Each one who played on the album went on to dominate the world of jazz/rock/fusion: Wayne Shorter on the soprano saxophone, Joe Zawinhul on electric piano, Chick Correa on electric piano, John McLaughlin on electric guitar, Dave Holland on bass, 19 year old Lenny White and Jack Johnette on drums, power drummer Billy Cobham, Airto Moreira on percussion, Bennie Maupin on bass clarinet. After ‘Bitches Brew’ came significant formations of experimental jazz like John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, Chick Correa’s Return To Forever, Joe Zawinhul and Wayne Shorter’s Weather Report.
‘Bitches Brew’ was the boldest foray made by a jazz musician. The subtlety of jazz fused with the raw energy of electric rock was to create what we call today is fusion jazz.
The title track ‘Bitches Brew’ kickstarts with incredible energy. The scintillating interplay between the guitar, keyboards and the drums is worth a million listens. Spanish Key is a 17 minute masterpiece of jazz rock. It starts with a guitar, horn, keyboard intro with Miles gently gliding in with his inimitable cool style of trumpet playing. Towards the end it becomes an the intricate and energetic interplay of the various instruments with Miles holding it all together the disparate components into a cohesive whole . One of the most memorable piece is named after John McLaughlin himself. With McLaughlin’s crunching guitar and the keyboard providing the foundation is still one of the most formidable guitar based jazz rock tracks. It is the shortest piece on the album and yet left a trailblazing influence on the course of jazz guitar playing in the years to come.
The track Miles Runs the Voodoo Down another lengthy 14 minute masterpiece. This is one of my favorite pieces is still a gem after 50 years. On this electric jazz rock arrangement, Miles’ trumpet creates his voodoo magic. His trumpet weaves and blends through intricate guitar and keyboard playing. Also on display is Wayne Shorter’s saxophone playing.
Sanctuary is actually a placid respite from the agitated atmosphere of the previous tracks. It takes us back to the Miles’ cool style of playing from his earlier classics like A Kind of Blue. In between this 11 minute track is an interlude of Miles’ trumpet amidst the atmospherics created by the electric keyboard, drums and Airto’s percussion, a style which would be imitated by many bands.
Feio is a delightfully experimental piece. This is one of the languid and laid backtracks. It allows each of these fantastic musicians to play their parts bidding goodbye to their listeners. It gives space and time to the listener to reflect on the tempest which blew over them earlier.
Let me warn reader that for a listener who straying into the kind of jazz-rock-fusion in Bitches Brew for the first time, it is not an easy listen. There is density of myriad sounds, ideas, compositions and creations in constant agitation. The tapestry Miles and his band of incredible musicians weave is complex. Each listens gives a new insight, a new experience, an unnoticed nuance. Paying attention to the individual parts, with its disparate and often dissonant and atonal components and allowing the entire sound to grow on you, is the path to the nirvana Miles wanted to take you to.
[Santosh Paul is a Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court of Indian, when not arguing in court he write about Jazz and other things]
This piece first appeared in his blog.